Mark Barnes


Finweek English Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Marc Ash­ton

In­dus­try in­sid­ers are not short of ad­jec­tives to de­scribe Mark Barnes.

“Bril­liant”, “a mav­er­ick” and “dif­fi­cult” all come eas­ily to mind when de­scrib­ing the once highly re­garded in­vest­ment banker at Stan­dard Cor­po­rate and Mer­chant Bank (SCMB) and for­mer head of pri­vate eq­uity gi­ant Brait.

Barnes how­ever has his own ad­jec­tive. “I’m a PRAF – pre­vi­ously rich and fa­mous,” he tells Fin­week in an in­ter­view.

There are few ex­ec­u­tives in South Africa who cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion in quite the same way. Barnes is out­spo­ken, crit­i­cal, bat­tle-scarred and 10 years ago had an en­vi­able track record. His more re­cent ven­tures through JSE listed

Pur­ple Cap­i­tal have been less than im­pres­sive and yet there is an un­der­ly­ing sense that he is one deal away from re-cap­tur­ing his pre­vi­ous magic.

When Fin­week sought out Barnes for an in­ter­view it was with the pri­mary goal of try­ing to work out whether he still had that “it” fac­tor. Could he still swing for the fences and would in­vestors be re­warded if they backed him through his JSE listed in­vest­ment com­pany Pur­ple Cap­i­tal? The short an­swer is yes. How we reached that con­clu­sion is a longer story.

Much like Dis­cov­ery CEO Adrian Gore, Barnes comes across as one of those lead­ers who can con­vince you to buy into his vi­sion on the strength of their per­son­al­ity and con­vic­tion that what they are do­ing will ul­ti­mately pro­duce re­sults. When you wrap up an in­ter­view with ei­ther of them there is the un­der­ly­ing sense that they can do any­thing they set their minds to.

How­ever that is where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. Where Gore is clean-cut and straight­laced, Barnes isn’t stand­ing on cer­e­mony for any­one.

“I took up rose gar­den­ing to try and help me with the women,” he jokes as he

walks Fin­week through his house in For­est Town, Jo­han­nes­burg.

Women fea­ture promi­nently on the walls of the Barnes res­i­dence with the house dec­o­rated with a num­ber of provoca­tive nudes that would make the unini­ti­ated blush. Gore may be de­scribed as a risk-taker of sorts but it is hard to pic­ture him hav­ing an im­age of a woman plea­sur­ing her­self in his en­trance hall.

A walk into his study re­veals a wall ded­i­cated to his six chil­dren as well as a poster ad­ver­tis­ing a play en­ti­tled “A pineap­ple in my panties”.

“My el­dest daugh­ter Carly wrote that play,” he proudly ex­plains be­fore bring­ing out a photo of him pre­par­ing to sky-dive with two of his girls.

There is no short­age of colour and ap­petite for risk-tak­ing in this fam­ily.

Just when the word “rogue” springs to mind, Barnes re­veals an­other side to his per­son­al­ity.

In be­tween learn­ing Chopin on the pi­ano he is also a col­lec­tor of sorts. He proudly dis­plays a Vusi Khu­malo piece of art, a heli­copter put to­gether with a sin­gle piece of wire and a leather­bound the­sis from 1939 de­tail­ing the im­pact of mo­tor ve­hi­cle park­ing on the ex­ist­ing road in­fra­struc­ture.

He snapped up the Khu­malo piece early in the artist’s ca­reer for next to noth­ing and now es­ti­mates it to be worth hun­dreds of thou­sands. An eye for a good deal per­haps?

“I’m a col­lec­tor of things that re­flect hu­man en­deav­our and in­no­va­tion,” he says.

There is an old say­ing that to un­der­stand a man you need look no fur­ther than at the car he drives and in Barnes’ case this is per­haps the first vis­i­ble sign where an out­sider can start to un­der­stand how his life and ca­reer have evolved.

“I used to have five cars, but kept run­ning out of park­ing space so now I am just down to a Toy­ota Hilux,” he says adding: “It’s amaz­ing how dif­fer­ently peo­ple treat you on the roads in a Toy­ota. The cops were al­ways look­ing for an ex­cuse to pull over that prick in the Jag.”

Triv­ial per­haps but the trans­for­ma­tion from Jaguar to Hilux sums up much of Barnes’ pro­fes­sional ca­reer.

Adopted at birth in the town of Belfast, Barnes se­cured qualifications from the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town and Har­vard as he rose through the ranks at SCMB to ul­ti­mately be­come deputy man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at the same time that cur­rent Stan­dard Bank ex­ec­u­tives Jacko Ma­ree and Ben Kruger were climb­ing the cor­po­rate lad­der.

He was se­lected as a mem­ber of the Stan­dard Bank Group’s Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee un­til he re­signed in Novem­ber 1996

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